Is Urban Survival Even Possible?

by Tara

Urban survival is basically an oxymoron. If you have extensive survival or military training, it is possible – but the chances of making it through a SHTF disaster for even an above average person in a city environment, is exceedingly slim.

There are plenty of reports on the internet attempting to teach you how to survive in an urban environment, and a plethora of others urging you to “bug out to the woods” – following the instructions and advice in many of those types of pieces will likely get you and those you love, killed.

If you are looking for a report that is simply going to reinforce your plans to ride out the apocalypse in a city or to get potentially life-saving advice on how to do it, this article is not going to do that. Nope, it is going to give you the cold hard truth and hopefully, the type of brutally honest guidance you need to begin making a feasible plan to survive a long-term disaster.

Top 8 Reasons Why Urban Survival Isn’t Possible

Reason #1:Water

Once the power goes out or the grid fails, as it ultimately will in any type of disaster, you will have no way to get water to drink, to wash, or for use in food preparation other than rainwater collection. Does it rain every day? No, yet you need to consumer water every day.

Going without water for three days is long enough to cause severe dehydration or even death. You will not be the only city dweller desperate to set up bowls and buckets on the apartment building rooftop to collect rainwater. Do not think another panicked human being with an equally dire need for water would not kill you over a bucket containing only a few ounces of water.

Your only other options for water (because all available bottled water will disappear from store shelves just a few hours after a disaster, at best) is using a LifeStraw or similar device to suck water out of any puddle you find. Decorative water features and fountains will contain dirty and likely chemically treated water that a LifeStraw could filter enough to make it safe to drink, but you have to beat hundreds to thousands of other people to the water source first.

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Reason #2: Food

Urban gardening and homesteading is a positive and growing trend, but that food would have to be protected by armed individuals for it to not disappear just about as quickly as water when a disaster hits. Unless you live right next to an urban community garden, the chances of you reaching it before the food is gone, or even reaching it safely once the growing plots have been raided, are just about zero.

Growing food inside your apartment or townhouse, or other type of urban dwelling that could even have a tiny backyard, would be your saving grace for a brief amount of time. If others in your neighborhood, even folks you think of as friends or nice acquaintances, beat you home from work, your food source could disappear before you get to harvest what can be pulled and take it inside the home.

Do not underestimate the desire to stay alive and protect the family that everyone will be feeling, folks who never thought of stealing anything before in their lives could be reduced to it in an instant. You could always forage, even in the city wild edibles are growing.

But, there are several downsides to foraging in an urban environment during a SHTF situation. The first thing to consider is safety, any time you are out in the open you are a target for attack and the theft of whatever you risked your life to find. Second, the weeds and other wild edibles you could find to eat are most likely contaminated with chemical pesticides municipal employees have sprayed to eliminate them from sidewalks and parking lots.

You could go to the part to potentially find a greater abundance of wild edibles in one space, but those plants and weeds have also been sprayed with chemical pesticides and the competition for them will increase the danger you will face while bending over to pick them and then tote them home.

Reason #3: Food Preparation

Let’s say you were an avid indoor and outdoor vertical gardener who has a crop ready to harvest and was able to scurry it inside before it was taken. Now what are you going to do with it? Sure, you can eat fruits and veggies raw, but they should be washed first and you have no or precious little, water.

Did you grow protein-rich crops to help keep you strong and healthy during a disaster? If not, you better have plenty of long-term storage food tucked away inside your limited storage space. Unlike rural or even suburban preppers who understand the value of a survival homestead, you cannot keep even small livestock at your home or have access to hunting and fishing areas to supplement your stockpiled food.

Most varieties of long-term storage food require the addition of hot water. You do not have a heat source and again have no or only a tiny and unsustainable amount of water. If you insist upon living in an urban environment and want to prep, your best chance of staving off starvation is to use every single inch of space that you can to stockpile long-term storage food and water.

If you live in a small apartment, use floor to ceiling wall shelves in each room to store your preps. Will this look very unappealing, especially when non-prepping guests come over. Yep, but do you want to attempt to survive in the city, or not? This is the type of stockpiling that will be required to get your through a short term disaster, and to provide you with the food and water you need to flee via vehicle immediately after it strikes.

The feasibility of fleeing the city either by vehicle or by foot and where to go if you get out, is a topic that will be covered in greater detail below. In order to be able to prepare food and boil water, purchase a camping stove and an ample supply of the propane tanks necessary for it to operate.

Remember, the prepping motto, “One is none and two is one” and buy two camping stoves and spare parts. Are you cringing right now thinking about where you are going to put 10 long-term food storage buckets, 36 cases of water, and the camping stove you need to attempt survive even a short-term disaster? Good. That’s means you are an intelligent person determined to learn how to develop a survival plan that will actually work.

Reason #4: Energy

As noted above, expect the power to go out if not immediately, within days after an apocalyptic event. The vast majority of metropolitan areas would not permit a resident to live off grid. When the power goes out, how will you heat your home, boil water to make it safe to drink, light the home, and prepare food?

The camping stove will be a viable option as long as the propane tanks don’t run dry. Unlike rural and suburban preppers, you cannot purchase a multi-fuel generator and have it hard-wired to power the essentials inside the home – nor can you have a wall-mounted propane heater or wood burning stove to keep your warm or boil water and prepare food upon. If you are lucky, you have an apartment or townhouse with at least a fireplace.

A fireplace is not efficient enough to properly heat a home, especially during the winter. If you close off all the rooms except the one the fireplace is in and have stockpiled wood (you still have storage space, right?) you will not freeze. You could burn your furniture, but it will release toxic fumes because it is treated wood and would require the opening of a window, at the very least – which would let the cold in.

What could you do for light and heat if you live in an urban environment during a disaster? Purchase a small portable and lightweight solar generator and place it on your balcony or fire escape (you better guard it 24/7 or it will probably be stolen) so you can run an electric space heater and a few lamps – as long as the solar generator is getting enough sun.


Reason #5: Freedom of Movement

If you live in an apartment building, as most city dwellers do, the elevator will not work after the power goes out. Your only means of exiting and entering the property will be via the stairs or fire escape. Not only will this be a time-consuming and labor intensive process, it will also be a highly dangerous proposition.

Any thug desperate for, well, anything to help them survive or steal to use for barter, will be waiting in the stairway or on the fire escape.Common street thugs will be willing, heck some may be eager, to physically attack you, and claim your apartment as their own. We have all seen the looting and violence that takes place during riots on the news – those scenes will seem mild compared to the civil unrest that will occur during a disaster situation.

Reason #6: Medical Emergencies

You will not be able to call 911 for help during a long-term disaster. Stockpiling over-the-counter and prescription medications, as well as common first aid items, will be essential to your very survival. You still have enough storage space left for all the medical preps you will need to treat anything from small injuries up to a gunshot wound, right?

Reason #7: Weapons

Hopefully you already have your concealed carry weapons (CCW) permit. If you do not, get it ASAP. You must store enough weapons, handguns, rifles, shotguns, ammunition, knives, and even bows and arrows, to protect what is yours, yourself when you leave your dwelling, and to get out of the city when you finally have to admit survival in an urban environment is not possible.

Do you know how to use all of these types of weapons? If not, learn. Do you have space to store them? Ammunition, the amount you will need in order to survive, takes up a lot more space than you might think. You will also need to stockpile spare parts for your guns, learn how to fix problems on your own, and ideally, purchase reloading equipment and learn how to use that as well.

Unlike in rural areas, and even many suburban areas, you will probably be surrounded by more bad guys with guns than good guys and gals with legal guns. Let this fact sink in for a little bit, and then start contemplating how you could relocate for your work or work from home in either the same career or a new one so you could move somewhere safer, with an abundance of natural resources, and be surrounded by like-minded and prepared individuals.

Reason #8: Bugging Out

Hesitation will kill your quicker than a lack of food, sleeping cold, or even a lack of water. If you think you must live in a city for work and access to quality medical care (which does not have to be true) then you must have an exit strategy, one that has been practiced excessively, allowed for obstacles, and includes a backup contingency plan.

If you wait, hoping that help is on the way, that local heroes in blue will be able to get things under control, or simply because the situation in front of you has frightened you into a state of immobility, you will die. When a disaster strikes there will be a brief moment of collective shock, this is when you need to go if you are going.

Once the shock wears off and the thousands or tens of thousands of your neighbors fully grasp the catastrophe that has occurred, it will not be safe to be out on the street and the roads will be clogged worse than any traffic jam you have ever experienced. Fleeing when the rule of law no longer exists in society will make you and your family not only a target if trying to leave the city on foot with only what you can carry, but when you are stopped on the road in jammed traffic.

What do you think the odds are of you either not running out of gas when stuck in stagnant traffic or finding a gas station that is either still functional or with pumps that are not already dry? You can stockpile fuel in your trunk, but when a bad guy or bad girl decides to attack you while you are stuck in traffic and take it, you will be on foot in an environment that is just as dangerous as the one you left a few miles back in the city.

Let’s say you do get out, you leave quickly and beat hundreds of other panicked drivers trying to escape the city – where will you go? Please, please, I am begging you, do not simply, “bug out to the woods” or “bug out to the country.” Only those with expert survival skills would make it living in the woods, and even such learned preppers or veterans would still be facing possibly insurmountable obstacles.

Every state park or national park in the country will become filled with frightened (temporary) survivors who left their homes with nowhere to go. Instead of a threat being present around every street light, it will now be lurking around every tree. If you know how to hunt and are lucky enough to bag a deer before the population is overly taxed and disappears, that guy behind the tree could be willing to kill you for it, or at least hurt you to get it.

Simply because the water in a stream or pond in the woods, state park, or national park is clear, that does not mean it is safe to drink. You will have to pack both enough survival gear and knowledge to garner clean water, food, wild edibles, to build a shelter (the cabins and tents at the park will disappear quickly and you might have to fight to the death to keep it) build a fire, etc.

So many novices trying to shoot game and build fires will likely lead to copious amounts of accidental deaths and even destroy the very woods you counted on to keep you alive. As for the “bugging out to the country” faux survival plan, that can get you killed as well.

Do not think for a single moment all of the millions of country folks like myself will not be standing armed on the country line to prevent the marauding hordes – good people or not, from the city AND the suburbs, from coming into our area. We will protect our natural resources fiercely because the lives of those we love depend on it.

For the sake of argument, let’s assume you were lucky enough to get to a state park in time to set up a camp or score a cabin to stay in. How long will the food you carried in on your back keep you alive? Would it last long enough to kill enough wild game and find enough wild edibles that no one could take from you, and preserve it until you could plant crops with the seeds you carried in and tend to them without getting them stolen?

What if the SHTF event occurred during the winter? Now, that changes things a bit doesn’t it. Although there are fewer of them, wild edibles do grow in the winter. Not all game hibernates, so you could still hunt. But the readily available food sources you were counting on to supplement what you carried in and planned on growing, will be significantly diminished.

I recently read an article about urban survival that tried really hard to find some pros to add to a long list of cons. I think I laughed out loud several times when the write made some urban to rural prepping environment comparisons.

First, the preparedness writer claimed it would be a lot easier to scavenge needed materials like scrap metal, fencing, and batteries in the city. This guy really must have not spent much time away outside of the city if he does not think most country folks keep ample of this type of scrap around in their backyards, pole barns, or at one of the many junk and scrap yards that dot the rural landscape like chain-stores do in metropolitan areas.

The second survival-related chuckle I was unable to stifle was when the writer claimed urban buildings will be better at stopping bullets because they are made out of concrete. Urban buildings sure are taller and yes, some boast incredibly thick concrete that will provide protection from incoming fire, but a lot of country folks build their homes out of poured concrete walls because of both cost and to keep the interior of the home cool in the summer.

There are also many brick homes and log homes that were built with either a concrete wall covered by thin timber or incredibly thick hardwood. One of the major differences between urban dwellings and suburban and rural ones is that we can walk out onto our acre or into spacious backyards without the threat posed by a dense population that has struggled with bad actors by taking only a few steps, not thousands of steps down a pitch black stairwell into the dangerous unknown.

The goal of this article is not to lambaste your plans to try to survive in an urban environment, but to educate you about what it will take, so you can devise a better plan and join the rest of the prepared Americans who already know living in a city is a recipe for death during a SHTF event. We want you to join us in the survivor’s club, so you have some major life decisions to begin making…right now.

If you absolutely cannot move (and really, I think that you could if you made some lifestyle choices that would likely greatly benefit your overall health and quality of living in the end), consider buying rural land and creating a real bugout retreat or leasing space from a rural resident who is willing to let you park a camper on the land year round.

You need somewhere to go and store the survival items you need and a space to learn and hone the survival skills you and your family will need to make it through the doomsday event and beyond.

Build up a relationship with the community where you buy or the person you are leasing from, get your face seen around town and always carry proof that your own or lease in the area so you can make it across a security guard after the SHTF.

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22 thoughts on “Is Urban Survival Even Possible?”

  1. I love reading these articles. This one, like thousands of others offer absolute crap information on survival.

    Christ. Anyone with a camera on YouTube, anyone with a website to post to, anyone with the ability to form a sentence is automatically an expert on various survival situations.

    I hope your readers learn how to come back and find useful information elsewhere.

    • Too bad for you that Tara, the author of this article, lives on a 56-acres farm and has a mutual assistance group of prepper farmers. If you’ve read her articles on other websites, you saw how advanced she is. But then again, maybe you’re even more advanced than her 🙂 I know I’m not.

      • Here’s a little REALISTIC insight to your COUNTRY LIVING FANTASY! Nothing, not even a small group of “determined and like minded” farmers are going to be able to stop the hordes of “hungry and desperate” city dwellers (WAY out number rural dwellers) from taking what they need or want. ALL civility and rule of law will be vanquished by mob rule and escalating violence. Only the “most ruthless” will survive – welcome to MY CLUB….

      • i dont think the list of deficits are worse in the city then country, the water is doable the down side of both is trying to produce enough food for you and your group and fire

  2. I agree in general. That is, for most urban dwellers, in the majority of urban areas. Pretty much for the reasons listed in the article. However, I do think that there are many people, in many urban areas, that would be able to not only survive, but thrive after a major disaster.

    If the disaster is such that rule of law is maintained, or lost for only a short time and then reinstated, and the death toll from the disaster is less than twenty percent or so, then things will return to a somewhat modified normal, but not all that much different from the current normal.

    It is when there is a truly major event, where people do try to ‘head for the hills and the wilderness’, and there are lawless gangs roaming the streets, and there is no rule of law or any infrastructure remaining active, then it actually becomes rather easier (not easy, just easier) to survive.

    The number of people in urban areas is the primary problem. Pretty much everything people need is within the confines of the city limits. There just is not anywhere near enough to supply the current population of a given city. Take 90% of the people out of any city by evacuation or death, and there will be plenty of everything for the remaining 10%.

    And if some of that 10% that remain are bad guys, it is doubtful it will be more than 10% of that 10%, and the other 9% of the 10% will take care of the problem. Not by waiting and hiding and responding and defending and fighting back. Nope. They will go, seek out, and destroy those that are a threat to decent people trying to survive, raise families, and start rebuilding and helping the recovery.

    There will be plenty of water, temporary supplies of food, room with dirt to grow more food for people and stock, shelter for the stock, fuel to burn, and defensible shelter available for those few bad guys that might have escaped the initial purge.

    Without the die-off, however, and absent rule of law and a working infrastructure, it will be much more difficult. But I do believe it can be done. Only by those willing to think it through, make appropriate plans, and obtain the training and supplies necessary to make it through until things either get much better, or get much, much worse to the point of the die-off occurring.

    Just my opinion.

  3. The list of places you can get supplies from in a city are more abundant then in the country. Making your own power should have been one of your top skills you should have learned. Yes there are some down falls but if you are in the country and have to go find any supplies in an apocalypse, you have miles to cover.

    In all honesty if you haven’t figured out how to survive an apocalypse in a city, you not very well trained.

    • The amount of gangs and other threats in the city are worse than in the country. If you are waiting to get your supplies till after the disaster then you are going to be in for a big surprise. You go right ahead and live in the city!!

  4. A lot of preppers seem to think the city is a death zone and the country is safer.
    I’d like to remind people of the Holodomor, where the Soviets otherized the Ukrainian farmers and, with a small military force, slowly genocided 5-12 million of them in rural Ukraine. It’s not hard to take and dominate a low density area.

    Cities (I’m not talking about burbs) would naturally form neighborhood gangs that substitute government functions Cities are nearly always based in a major water source, and people are more likely to know their neighbors. Just look at history and see there isn’t a lot of safe places if your region is in major turmoil.

  5. TLDR: If you live in the city or an apartment in the suburbs and cannot move for real-life practical reasons that the author doesn’t seem to believe exist, just kill yourself as soon as things go wrong because you won’t survive anyway.


  6. If your visitors, service personnel or landlord sees those floor to ceiling shelves of survival supply, guess who will be knocking on (or kicking in) your door when things go wonky.

  7. I live semi rural. I have food stored. I live totally off grid except a well is still on the grid. That is close to changing as I have the solar panels, batteries and charge controler. I need wire for in the well, wire to the batteries, a pump and pressure tank. Its not cheap but is worth while. I also have a hand cranked winch that could be used at the well if needed.
    We have canned foods, dry foods, a warm weather garden, plans include– pit greenhouse, larger rootceller room, more water storage, new area for our chickens, ducks, and rabbits as part of the greenhouse complex. Areas to grow more feed for the critters so they will also live without dependence on commercial feeds. Hydroponics and aquaponics are areas of trial and learning toward doing more as time goes on.
    Done for prepping. Not really. Done to be more independent and how liberating that is. Three acres isn’t a lot. No big critters. They compete for food and we aren’t supplying that much yet. I do have a few bearing fruit trees and three more to get planted.
    Actually planning for a married son and one other family here. So three acres isn’t a lot. But we work well together. And I’m working toward more solar power to include two more residences that are here and for my motor home.
    Just choosing to live rural and reduce our carbon foot prints is costly but well worth it right now. If or when we all face a SHTF situation we’d be ok. But you’d best learn to forage your climate area. The ability to weld or blacksmith and make or repair things is valuable even today. But sufficient power or gas bottle and rods could disappear. Blacksmithing and forge skills will last and you can make your own charcoal. Learn some real working skills and gather the needed equipment. Rent or buy a rural spot. Move there now and commute to work if you must.
    Read books and learn by practice or work with someone as an apprentice. Don’t wait for bad times. Earn your independence now.

  8. Stopped reading after water because it showed how little the author actually knows. How about all the water heaters that have gallons of drinkable water? In every single home. Just another person trying to get attention about a subject the obviously have no real expertise in. That took be less than a paragraph to realize.

    • How long will a few gallons last you? You need 1 gallon a day bare minimum, but what about if you get shot, or catch pneumonia, or have to wash your clothes? The context is of a long-term disaster, although an extreme one.

    • The water in the hot water tank is not completely potable, and assumes that there is a (full size) tank and not the more energy efficient “instant water heater” which is not a good assumption in a significant number of homes. And let us not forget the tanks on the back of each toilet, unless they are tankless.

  9. Tara,
    Great article. The issues that you raise illustrate why the term “urban survival” is truly an oxymoron. I’ve laughed out loud right along with you at the same articles and web sites that you’ve alluded to.
    Regarding Reason #2 Food: city dwellers almost certainly don’t realize that it takes 55-95 days to bring in a crop of corn, depending on the climate zone they happen to be in, or that it takes 112-119 days to bring in a crop of potatoes. That is academic, of course, if they have no water for irrigation or a sufficiently large patch of ground for planting.

    I particularly like and agree with your statement “Do not think for a single moment all of the millions of country folks like myself will not be standing armed on the country line to prevent the marauding hordes – good people or not, from the city AND the suburbs, from coming into our area. We will protect our natural resources fiercely because the lives of those we love depend on it.” I am grateful that I live 75 miles from the nearest city. Mark my words, there will be no welcome wagon in my community for the hordes of evacuees.

  10. I think things will go to hell in a city very quickly in a bad survival situation. Law and order will completely disappear after a few days and everyone had better have a good survival plan. Gangs will form and in a month, all the food, pets, rats, pigeons and zoo animals will be eaten, then the gangs will start consuming any one they can find. If there is still a person in three months that has any meat on his bones there will be a dozen starving cannibal’s after them. Those who are prepared must stick together in groups and defend their territory until the great die off is over and the city is depopulated leaving them room to survive longterm.

  11. Too bad you have zero or less hope that some of us who really CAN’T relocate will make it through SHTF, I will still be doing what I can to be ready as much as I can. Who knows, perhaps God really does help the innocent and the children. I still think there are more good people than bad, and they will prevail in the end.

  12. I’m so tired of country folks scare tactics. Until the sky falls I think they might be jealous of what is available in a city. If the end does happen I have water barrels, a water heater, a rain barrel, plenty of water filters, some freeze dried food, etc, etc. Moving to the country might be nice but holding off because of the money, work and yes the medical availability. Doctors might be around if you’re healthy.however if you have special needs it’s another matter.


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